Verdi's La Traviata - November 2005

Kentish Opera made a welcome return to Sevenoaks with their excellent production of Verdi's tragic love story La Traviata.

As soon as the curtain went up, the set and costumes, designed by Enid Strutt and Carol Stevenson respectively, were so dazzling, particularly in the ball scenes, that you felt you really were stepping into Parisian high society.
Special mention has to go to Colin Martin, who has been lighting designer for the group for 50 years and without whom the excellence of the stage setting would mean nothing.

The mise-en-scene was only matched by the chemistry between the two leading characters. Ruth Kerr, as Violetta and David Newman, as Alfredo, have a very natural on stage rapport.

Kerr, who was stunning throughout, both vocally and in appearance, comfortably handled the rigours of this difficult part - which culminates in her having to sing lying flat on her back in the throes of death.

Meanwhile, Newman has a perfect voice for the role of Alfredo - strong, passionate and tinged with sadness. Other notable performances came from the dastardly duo of Gary Coward, as Alfredo's father and Freddie Tong, as the Baron.

The highlight of the performance, though, was the second ball scene, which had everything. Firstly, the chorus was in full voice, the women were at their coquettish best while the men sung powerfully.

Then the dance interlude, directed by Terry John Bates, added an exotic feel until the music, conducted by the experienced hand of Mark Fitz-Gerald, rose to a powerful crescendo, culminating in the Baron challenging Alfredo to a duel.

In essence, this is what makes Kentish Opera so special. It is the pulling together of all the elements of opera, under the expert command of director Sally Langford, to create a powerful, epic, professional production.

Ally McKay
Sevenoaks Chronicle

Death Becomes Her

Kentish Opera brought yet another sumptuous and memorable production to the Sevenoaks playhouse with Sally Langford's slightly contentious version of Verdi's La Traviata, writes Roy Atterbury.

With a cast of almost 70 singers, actors and dancers, the stage was often awash with superbly colourful costumes (designed by Carol Stevenson) and imposing sets (Enid Strutt) as well as a near constant demonstration of choreography and dance by dance director Terry John Bates at its most effective and entertaining.

However, the adaptation of Dumas' novel The Lady of the Camellias provides a powerful story line which needs both good actors and singers in the principal roles.

Although some parts were rotated during the six day run, the cast on the Wednesday were outstanding, with the splendid bass-baritone of Freddie Tong as Baron Douphol, the equally potent baritone of Michael Fitchew as Germont and Rachel Harland's beautifully pitched soprano as Annina (Violetta's maid) all underscoring the quality of the performances.

In the lead roles, soprano Claire Surman as the tragic Violetta and tenor Philip O'Brien as her luckless suitor Alfredo were perfect for the parts.

On the whole, most of the production was verging on the traditional and the way in which Violetta slowly changed from being a radiant beauty to a gaunt shadow of her former self was a triumph for the actress and the director.

However, the death scene at the end was given a far greater dramatic impact by Sally Langford and, instead of just fading away and her hand falling to the side of the bed, Violetta suddenly got to her feet and, with renewed energy, became like her former self for a short few seconds.

Then she crumpled to the floor and was lifted back into the bed where she succumbed. I believe that this sequence worked very well and had been well conceived by the director - but I suspect that many members of the audiences might have been shocked by the innovation.

Whatever the patrons might have thought, few could have contested the fact that this was opera at its very best, with great support from the outstanding orchestra, conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald, which was another layer of icing on a luscious cake.

Roy Atterbury
Kentish Times

A letter addressed to the Director of Kentish Opera

Dear Sir,

I had the pleasure of attending the first night performance of the Kentish Opera's La Traviata at the Sevenoaks Playhouse on 9th November. It was also my first visit to that theatre, and the design of the auditorium with its wonderful acoustic response ensured a perfect viewpoint and sound for the audience of 450.

I have been to many productions of Traviata in Italy and France, mostly when touring the provincial areas of each, avoiding main tourist venues, so mostly the theatres were of about the same size as The Playhouse, and attended by local populations. Many operatic productions I have also enjoyed at Covent Garden, but only many years ago when it was easily possible to afford the cost of a ticket on a student's income, and I got there once every week.

That production of 9th November was faultless. The voices were very good indeed, especially Violetta - enchanting young woman. It is exactly one month since I was there, but I am still mystified by the quality of movement control shown in the great ensembles within such a limited space. The size of my main living room is 24ft x 18ft which look about equivalent to the useable floor area during the ensembles, and there was not one collision - even though so many people were moving, including Violetta who jumped onto a sofa.

The energy put into the production and the sincerity displayed by all in the performance, including that wonderful small orchestra, equalled the best I have ever been to in Europe. I must add value to this opinion by telling you that I hardly noticed it was being sung in English.

The costumes were very attractively made and a joy to look at - but that would need another letter of appreciation written by someone better professionally able to do so than I.

Please send me a list of your future performances forthcoming through 2006 and where they will be shown. Don't forget.

With admiration and warm regards to the whole company,

Clifford Cole